Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Review (Xbox 360)
My favorite athletes growing up were never the flashy superstars of the time. I didn’t go for the homerun hitters, the 50 goal scorers or the guys who would go out and grab a triple-double on a regular basis. I wasn’t swayed by batting titles, 4000 passing yards or hat tricks. Sure, they were impressive. It was always nice to have those guys on your side, but they weren’t the ones that I followed. I was always a fan of consistency. I liked the guys who were going to give you everything they had, every time they took their field of play. The guy that would hit .285 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs while putting in 150 plus games. That player who would chip in seven or eight goals every year while playing the tough minutes killing penalties, blocking shots and throwing his body around and in harm’s way. That offensive lineman who never missed a snap, the third guard in your rotation who’d come in for a quick burst of offense, or that middle reliever who didn’t care that there was nothing sexy about pitching the 6th inning. I always respected those guys who just came in and did it time after time after time.
One of the first things I think about when I think of the Tony Hawk series is consistency. Since 1999, the team over at Neversoft has consistently put out a quality product time after time after time. Building from a simple game about a fringe sport to what is considered by many to be one of the top two or three sports gaming franchises of all time. Year after year, title after title, this series never rests on its laurels or refuses to push the envelope for its loyal fans. Consistency in action.
The latest in the series, Tony Hawk’s Proving Grounds marks the 9th release in the series and once again delivers. While the competition for the skateboarding gamer’s dollar got interesting this season with the release of the first bonafide competitor to the throne, it’s hard to draw parallels between what the guys at Neversoft are doing and what we saw coming out of Redwood City. The Tony Hawk franchise has always been consistent in their over-the-top take on this already extreme sport. There’s nothing sim about a Tony Hawk game – at least in its core gameplay engine. Gaps between buildings, acid drops off of bridges and grinds that go on for miles are not rooted in what real skateboarders will see. Instead, where this series attempts to draw from reality is its portrayal of the life of a skateboarder.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, once again, is framed around a deep and enjoyable career mode. In this year’s version, you’ll hit the east coast scene and try to take your created skater through areas of Philly, Baltimore and D.C. in his quest for skating immortality. Along the way you’ll meet up with skating legends, some of the fresh faces of the sport, and fictional characters unique to the series that will help you carve and shred your way to the top. Where Proving Ground differs from previous releases is in the three unique paths that a skater can potentially take – Career, Hardcore and Rigger. While you’ll actually be playing through all three simultaneously, the open-ended design allows you to tackle them in any way you see fit.
The Career skater path is all about becoming a superstar of the sport. It’s all about getting your face out there and the exposure necessary to become synonymous with skating. You’ll need magazine covers, competition wins and hot video to earn you the spoils. But, with the right guidance, you’ll be hooking up with a sponsor and rolling out your signature shoes and decks in no time.
The Career arm of the game is where you’ll be introduced to two of the most significant additions to the game – Nail the Manual and Nail the Grab. For those of you who played Tony Hawk's Project 8, you’re familiar with last year’s stellar new Nail the Trick control. Well, NTT is back and this time they’ve spiced it up with a few new tweaks. Now, when you enter Nail mode, you can pull down the left trigger and use your sticks to Nail the Grab. Just Nail the Trick, you’ll enter “bullet time” and have full control over your board. You can tweak and transfer your grabs as well as more advanced moves like finger flips. You can even more back and forth between Nail the Trick and Nail the Grab with enough hangtime and the right timing.
With the right trigger down, you’ll enter the new Nail the Manual Mode. Once you’re in Nail the Manual, you’ll use your left stick to angle the front or back trucks to land in a manual to continue a combo. Once you’re on the ground, you can even release the right trigger to ollie out of the manual right back into Nail the Trick giving you the potential to land stellar combos for big points. As your skills increase, you can even unlock the ability to Nail the Grab and Manual in trucks up position for some really sweet moves.
Hardcore is the second of the three paths that your skater will take in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. The hardcore skater isn’t about the glitz and glamour of fame and fortune, he’s about skating the streets their way. They are about the passion and pain of skating. They are the adrenaline junkies of the skating world. They skate hard, fast and how they want to – no matter who or what gets in their way.
The hardcore section introduces the aggro kick feature to the game. By using the right shoulder bumper, your skater can thrust himself forward at speeds we haven’t seen in previous games. The aggro kick is an essential tool in landing some of the wicked distance challenges and huge gaps in Proving Ground. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not simple button mashing, the aggro kick is about timing and actually presents a bit of a learning curve when combined with the rest of the games controls.
Hardcore is also where you’ll use the skate checking feature. While this feature may be one of the most unnecessary nuances to be added to the game, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use it a lot. There’s something rewarding about lining up a tourist dead to rights and sending him off into the drink. I’m not proud of it, but it’s what I do. I would like to see a little risk/reward in the future if they’re going to keep the checking in game. Maybe a GTA-esque wanted level that would discourage you from just randomly unloading on old ladies on the sidewalk.
The final leg of the tripod on which this game sits is the life of the rigger. Lead by skateboard rigger extraordinaire Jeff King, rigging is about taking what you’re given and turning it into an instant skatepark. Place a kicker here or a halfpipe there and turn any area into a skating mecca. As you advance, you’ll learn how to take objects and mod them into “skateable” gear. The rigger section, for me personally, was a little bit forced. While the concept and reality of it in skateboarding is evident, it didn’t fit in the game very well. You almost felt like you were killing time in this section. There wasn’t anything overly challenging or interesting from start to finish.
As you’re completing your life as a skateboarder, you’ll also have the ability to complete challenges along the way outside of the three areas. These are things like manuals, nata spins and wallrides splashed throughout the environment. At each, you’ll initiate the start and attempt to “Go for Am”, “Go for Pro” or “Go for Sick” based on how successful you are. These little spot challenges are located in almost every nook and cranny in the game, so keep your eyes open for a ton of extra fun.
The look of the game has been improved with rich textures and solid animations throughout. There are still some framerate issues, as we saw in Project 8, but they don’t really do anything to detract from the overall look and flow of the game. The player models are significantly improved and seem to interact with the environment better than ever.
Some of the real skaters that are depicted in the game are really nicely rendered (Bob Burnquist being my favorite) while some still leave a little bit to be desired and can border on creepy from time to time, but all share a commonality in that this series continues to feature some of the best voicework in the business. Yes, I know, some of these guys sound like they are reading directly from cue cards, but I continue to be blown away by the sheer volume of audio content that is used in this game. The cutscenes are not only well done, but the skaters in the game act as an on-going tutorial throughout the action. I missed having Jason Lee as the pseudo-narrator this season, but it’s still an impressively large and diverse cast of characters.
The top notch audio doesn’t end at the voice acting either. Between the highly impressive soundtrack and some of the best sound effects around, you can’t help but feel thrust into the action from start to finish. Subtle intricacies like the sounds of your wheels changing based on the surface on which you’re rolling add up to great audio experience that the audio guys and gals at Neversoft should be proud of.
If single-player isn’t enough for you, Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground flows near seamlessly into its online component as well. You can actually move from your single player game right into online mode with a few quick steps. You can drop folks from your friend list right into a free skate while you set up one of the many modes of play. Inside you’ll find a deep and fun variety of modes, most of them carryovers from previous releases. Even in simple free skates with friends, it’s one of the more enjoyable multiplayer experiences available today.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground does it again. The team at Neversoft has taken a great game and improved it like we’ve seen time and time before. With next year marking the 10th edition in the series, I expect them to pull out all the stops. In the meantime, you’ll be able to enjoy Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground for weeks and months to come. Even with a somewhat simple single-player career mode, this is the deepest and most complete Tony Hawk to date. Between the rock solid online play and a nice new video editor to show off the sickest of the sick, there are hours and hours of game hours to be enjoyed.